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Impeached but acquitted: How a saga fit for reality TV played out in front of a divided US

He was acquitted of both charges earlier today.

Senators vote on the first article of impeachment during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate.
Senators vote on the first article of impeachment during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate.
Image: AP/PA Images

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP was acquitted today after a two-week impeachment trial in the Senate.

The drama has divided Americans and their institutions and confirmed Trump’s tight grip on his Republican Party, while also showcasing the oratorical and other skills of the chief Democratic accuser, Adam Schiff.

The trial illustrated the deep fissures that divide Democrats and Republicans in Congress but also those between everyday Americans under the presidency of the norm-shattering billionaire and former reality TV star.

In the House of Representatives, lawmakers spent hours arguing boisterously before voting largely along party lines on whether to charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the Ukraine scandal.

In the Senate they sat in silent observance of strict rules governing the impeachment trial. But whenever it went into recess, they rushed before TV cameras or took to Twitter to share irreconcilably opposed views of the historic proceedings.

Democrats called Trump a dangerous leader who considers himself above the law. Republicans argued that Trump was the victim of a coup perpetrated by his enemies to deny him a second term.

Outside Washington, Americans interviewed by AFP voiced opinions that largely fell in line with those of their political party. 

Polls said roughly half of Americans wanted Trump removed from office. This opinion was held by 85% of Democratic voters and just 10% of Republicans.

Republicans in line

Trump, who won the Republican nomination in 2016 despite overt opposition from some in the party, now has total control over his troops and demands absolute loyalty.

With Twitter as his favourite tool, he rewards fervent defenders with praise and silences rare voices of dissent.

In Congress he can count on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to keep the party’s lawmakers in line. Two senators did defect in a vote on calling witnesses in the trial, which would have stretched it out longer. 

But in the end Trump’s side won: witnesses with intimate knowledge of the president’s dealings with Ukraine, like former national security advisor John Bolton, were not called to testify.

In the final vote on conviction or acquittal, a single Republican senator broke ranks with his party and found Trump guilty — Mitt Romney, who called the president’s actions “an appalling abuse of public trust”.

donald-trump-welcomes-juan-guaido-washington Source: Gripas Yuri/ABACA

Damaged institutions

The trial also showed how deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans are gumming up the work of Congress. 

Since the Democrats retook control of the House in 2019, hundreds of bills passed by that chamber have been held up in the Senate. 

Trump’s impeachment by the House last month only made things worse, rendering compromise between the two parties virtually out of the question.

This bad blood made it impossible for Trump to get a fair trial, said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted to acquit despite describing the president’s conduct as “shameful and wrong.” 

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“It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed,” she said.

Schiff the orator

Schiff, the lead Democratic prosecutor, or House manager, kept lawmakers spellbound for hours with deftly delivered, highly detailed accounts of what happened in the scandal, with a bit of dramatic flair to boot.

One of his final speeches was spoken with real emotion and went viral. In it, Schiff said Trump must be removed from office “because right matters and truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”  

Actress Alyssa Milano, who watched part of the trial from the public gallery, praised Schiff’s performance.  

“Schiff was really interesting, especially from a performer’s perspective,” Milano said.

“And you can see the difference between him and the other impeachment managers, how he is in his element when he gets into that zone of really conveying that narrative and a timeline. It felt like you were watching a one-man show on Broadway.”

Even Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch defender of Trump, called Schiff very well spoken and said he had done “a good job”.

© – AFP 2020

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